Thursday, 23 March 2017

Watch footage from the beginning of Ghost in the Shell



Paramount Pictures has released five minutes of footage from director Rupert Sanders' upcoming live-action adaptation of Japanese Manga Ghost in the Shell, starring Scarlett Johansson.

Here’s the official synopsis:

"Based on the internationally-acclaimed sci-fi property, “GHOST IN THE SHELL” follows the Major, a special ops, one-of-a-kind human-cyborg hybrid, who leads the elite task force Section 9. Devoted to stopping the most dangerous criminals and extremists, Section 9 is faced with an enemy whose singular goal is to wipe out Hanka Robotic¹s advancements in cyber technology."



The movie has courted controversy surrounding the casting of Johansson as Major. However, the footage reveals stunning art direction underscored by composer Clint Mansell (Moon). Mansell's known to Mass Effect fans for his haunting orchestrations in Mass Effect 3.

Ghost in the Shell is in cinemas 31st March.

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Gareth Edwards on Darth Vader's Rogue One massacre



Much of the success of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, the first Star Wars standalone movie, can be attributed to the exhilarating final act, which, as I suggested in my review, took Star Wars to the nth degree and into A New Hope.

During the SXSW Film Festival, director Gareth Edwards spoke to Fandango and shed light on Rogue One's extensive summer reshoot that included the addition of Darth Vader boarding the Rebel ship, with horrifying consequences, in the final moments.

“He arrives and obliterates the Calamari ship, and then the blockade runner gets out just in time and he pursues the blockade runner. And then Jabez was like, ‘I think we need to get Darth on that ship,’ and I thought, yeah, that’s a brilliant idea and would love to do it, but there’s no way they’re going to let us do it. It’s a big number and we had, what, like 3 or 4 months before release.

Kathy [Kennedy] came in and Jabez thought, f--k it, and pitched her this idea, and she loved it. Suddenly within a week or two we were at Pinewood shooting that scene. [They] came up with a whole shopping list of ideas. 70% we used, and maybe 30% felt a little too extreme. They were things you hadn’t seen him do before…

It just felt right; it felt like the right thing to do. It really is just the greatest hits of Darth; that corridor. And we really didn’t want to do anything you haven’t seen him do so it didn’t throw people off. We kept it to what had been established.”

Fans finally witnessed the wrath of Darth Vader in a way the prequels failed to convey.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is released on Blu-ray this April.

Monday, 20 March 2017

Loving the Alien



Are directors Sir Ridley Scott and James Cameron seemingly in friendly competition at 20th Century Fox? Both are expanding their respective sci-fi franchises.

Alien and Avatar will serve up a sequel avalanche over the next decade as the studio battles Disney with its Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) and Star Wars sequels. The latter once had pride of place at 20th Century Fox before the House of Mouse bought Lucasfilm in 2012.

Speaking to Fandango, a booking site dedicated to film fandom, at SXSW Film Festival, Ridley Scott outlined his vision for four more Alien prequels.

"It will go Prometheus, Awakening, Covenant.. fairly integral where this colonization ship is on the way...."

Presumably the director meant Prometheus, Covenant and Awakening, which begins principal photography as early as 2018. Actress Katherine Waterston called him out on potential spoilers. "You're giving away too much!", she screamed.

Scott continues, “If this is successful, and then the next one, and then there will definitely be three more.”

Will the franchise remain truly alien after six prequels? Let me know in the comments below.

Thursday, 16 March 2017

The Phantom Menace haunts Mass Effect: Andromeda



What follows are my initial impressions of Mass Effect: Andromeda first trial on EA Access.

As I only finished the original Mass Effect trilogy - arguably one of the greatest space operas in any medium - a couple of weeks ago. Commander Shepard and the fabled crew of the Normandy are still fresh in one's mind.

Possible mild spoilers ahead for anyone who hasn't played Mass Effect...



Andromeda seemingly has an identity crisis. At first blush it's a disparate mishmash of the original Mass Effect, Halo and Batman: Arkham franchises. Too familiar tropes and first contact degenerates into a firestorm with rock people before you draw breath. So much for the Prime Directive. This is Star Trek funded by Cerberus. More on Cerberus later.

There's a nagging feeling of The Phantom Menace, surrounding the opening act, in spite of a sense of awe I haven't experienced since playing Phantasy Star Online (PSO) for Sega Dreamcast. Why should I care about the fate of the main protagonist, and her crew, when the writers rushed the introduction and the role of Pathfinder doesn't feel earned? That said, I'm enjoying playing as female Ryder and there's plenty of fun callbacks to the original trilogy: from familiar soundtrack cues to sound effects and much more.

Boarding the Tempest evoked emotions once reserved for the Normandy, USS Enterprise, Millennium Falcon and TARDIS.



Appreciate the more nuanced dialogue options in Andromeda. Paragon and Renegade, inherited from Knights of the Old Republic (KOTOR), was perfect for Shepherd's war with the Reapers in the original trilogy. Amusingly, it's too easy to unintentionally start romancing other characters, and this levity is welcome in the first few hours of the game. At its heart, Andromeda should be about exploration and hope.



Personally, I'm enjoying the banter with fellow crewmates at this early stage in the story. Liam, the most rounded member of the human crew, Peebee, a playful Asari, and Vetra, a female Turian capable of giving Garrus a run for his money, are the standouts thus far.

SAM, your AI assistant, appeared to be an annoying incarnation of Halo's Cortana in various video clips I'd watched. However, the backstory behind SAM's controversial development, begun by Ryder's father, on the Citadel, before embarking on the long journey to Andromeda, suggests a compelling mystery is in the offing. This is underscored by SAM and Ryder's rich interaction aboard the Nexus, headquarters of the Andromeda Initiative.

It's worth noting the conflict between artificial intelligence and organics drove the narrative of the original trilogy and impending apocalypse. However, there's a hopefulness here that is channelled through my favourite character. Ryder herself. Fryda Wolff embraces the role with an aplomb worthy of Daisy Ridley as Rey in The Force Awakens. I can't speak to the male incarnation.

The past couple of years I, like many other gamers, have suffered from open world fatigue, which Guerrilla Games' Horizon Zero Dawn deftly dodges. Andromeda appears to have a level of depth that may be just too overwhelming for some and is not in keeping with the franchise's legacy. Narrative fans may feel encumbered by crafting. The Witcher 3 remains atop my pile of shame as the notion of expending hundreds of hours playing a single game is too daunting a premise.



The Mass Effect universe has never looked shinier. The Frostbite 3 engine has pedigree as evidenced by stablemates Battlefield and Star Wars Battlefront. There's a very rare pleasure in simply wandering around the Tempest and basking in its reflective beauty. The trial version includes the day-one patch. Hopefully, BioWare will support the game, post release, with the same fervor as CD Projekt Red.

Art direction is uniformly excellent, just don't mention the humans and their Pingu lips. In 2017 it's inexcusable given Dragon Age: Inquisition, BioWare's other franchise, boasts superior animations and dates back to 2014. Humanities tech alludes to Cerberus, which feeds into a rumour that Cora is the Illusive Man's daughter.

What gave Mass Effect 2 its edge was working with the enemy, lead by Martin Sheen's Illusive Man, propelling the game into The Empire Strikes Back of the saga. With that in mind, it's possible there'll be a twist to this tale of exploration leading to a chilling cliffhanger! Unless it's a self-contained installment, which I'm hoping it's not. Mass Effect, like Star Wars, warrants a sequel trilogy.



The Mako was an infamous addition to the original Mass Effect and possessed all the finesse of a helium balloon with a gun strapped to it. My heart sank at the notion of more planetside traversal with its successor. The Nomad. However, the Nomad handles really well and your squad can disembark, with ease, to explore or exterminate at will.

Whilst the combat system has been further honed since Mass Effect 2 and 3. The addition of a jet pack has lead to minutes lost frustratingly impacting against a wall, or cliff, that appears impassable as your squad mates look on from above, helplessly. I felt like telling them to get on with the mission whilst I returned to the comfort of the Tempest.

Then there's the Kett. Rock folk who prefer to shoot first and ask no questions. If these are the big bad in Andromeda, then they're Z-List canon fodder compared to the Geth, Cerberus, Collectors and the godlike Reapers.

It's odd that for all the secrecy surrounding Mass Effect: Andromeda, EA would enforce a piecemeal embargo that's culminated in the next installment imploding into nothing more than merciless memes mocking animations, online, within 24 hours. This is compounded in a month where The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Horizon Zero Dawn have released to critical acclaim. The latter is Sony's most successful new IP launch in the history of PlayStation.



Further to the above. Michael Gamble, producer of the original Mass Effect trilogy and Andromeda, has responded to criticisms on Twitter.

"We appreciate the critiques (and memes!), but I am very happy to see how much y'all like the game after 10 hours...and...it gets even better."



Despite coming into this with a prejudice based on memes and early impressions from other gaming sites. I've enjoyed playing the trial over ten hours. It's a slow burner that maybe too slow for some. Standing in the Pathfinder's quarters aboard the Tempest, gazing out upon the great expanse of Andromeda, I had an epiphany: this is the Mass Effect I cherish. Can't wait to properly explore the new galaxy with my Ryder as in Winona. Because Stranger Things. FemShep's watching from beyond...

Lastly. I did smile when FemShep was already selected as legend during character creation. BioWare, you get me!

Are you playing the trial? Are you enjoying it, or do you want to see fixes before making a final decision to buy? Let me know in the comments below.

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Yoda to return in The Last Jedi?



During a panel at SXSW Frank Oz was asked whether or not Yoda would return in Star Wars: The Last Jedi?

"I feel like I’m a prisoner at war here, and I can only give you my name, rank and serial number," Oz said. "To be true to the people who asked me, and they are kind of my family, I have to say I’ve been asked not to talk about it. I love Yoda. I would be happy to talk to you about it at the time they let me."

A cryptic answer and one that suggests the beloved Jedi Master maybe seen on the big screen this December in director Rian Johnson's Star Wars sequel. Observant fans would have heard Yoda's voice during Rey's vision in The Force Awakens.

This feeds into an Episode VIII theory, I postulated during Star Wars Celebration Europe, that we'll see Ewan McGregor reprise his role as Obi-Wan Kenobi on screen. His voice, blended with Sir Alec Guinness, can also be heard in The Force Awakens. It makes narrative sense, especially if The Last Jedi is centred around Luke training Rey a la Yoda training Luke in The Empire Strikes Back.

Frank Oz has previously reprised the role of Yoda in Star Wars Rebels on Disney XD.

Monday, 13 March 2017

Mass Effect: Andromeda arrives Thursday on EA Access



Mass Effect: Andromeda is released next week and publisher BioWare has sent out review copies to journalists. Michael Gamble, producer of the original Mass Effect trilogy and Andromeda, took to Twitter to make the announcement.

"This is it. The game is in reviewers hands. In 5 years, I think we have created something magic. We humbly hope you all agree when you play."

Last weekend I completed an exhaustive playthrough of the original Mass Effect trilogy, that began on 7th November AKA N7 Day last year, and the series cemented itself as one of the greatest space operas in any medium. Deftly mixing inspiration from the grand texts of Isaac Asimov to Star Wars. So, I can't wait to explore Andromeda, early, on EA Access for Xbox One from this Thursday.

Many fans (myself included) will miss Commander Shepard and the fabled crew of the Normandy. I always play as FemShep because Jennifer Hale delivers an acting tour de force imbued with pathos. Plus, on a personal note, Joker (Seth Green) is the first disabled character I've identified with in a video game. Of course empathy comes in many guises. The good news. The developer confirmed there'll be callbacks to the original trilogy.

Whilst reviews are embargoed until 20th March and EA Access members are limited to 10 hours of gameplay, initial impressions of the next installment in the Mass Effect franchise will begin to filter through beforehand.

Looking forward to Mass Effect: Andromeda? Let me know in the comments below.

Saturday, 11 March 2017

Darth Maul seeks revenge in Star Wars Rebels



Obi-Wan Kenobi and Darth Maul duel in next Saturday's episode of Star Wars Rebels on Disney XD.



These guys have a history that stretches back to The Phantom Menace and their feud comes to an epic conclusion in Twin Suns. Maul has tracked Kenobi to Tatooine and is seemingly hellbent on revenge...

Friday, 10 March 2017

Game of Thrones returns this July



HBO has announced Game of Thrones season 7 begins 16th July in the US and the premiere will be simulcast in the UK on 17th July.

The Facebook live announcement was plagued with technical difficulties. From connection issues to a block of ice taking too long to melt despite the use of flamethrowers. Invariably, fans took to social media to mock the faux pas. Perhaps keep it simple next time?

A short teaser trailer accompanied the announcement.



Season 7 is the penultimate series and will run for 7 episodes making it the shortest season to date. Returning cast members include Kit Harington, Peter Dinklage, Lena Headey and Emilia Clarke. Clarke completed filming for her role as Daenerys before boarding the Millennium Falcon in the next Star Wars standalone movie at Disney.

Over the years George R.R. Martin's opus has gotten progressively darker and not everyone will come out of this alive. Winter is here.

What are you looking forward to most in Game of Thrones season 7? Let me know in the comments below.

Thursday, 9 March 2017

Luke Skywalker's first words to Rey in The Last Jedi



It's no secret Star Wars: The Last Jedi continues directly from the cliffhanger ending of The Force Awakens. Rey (Daisy Ridley) has found a reclusive Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) in what appears to be a ruined temple.

The first footage from The Last Jedi was exclusively shown to Disney shareholders at the company’s annual gathering in Denver. Luke Skywalker asks Rey: “Who are you?”, before she hands over his father's lightsaber.

Other clips shown to the audience included Rey wielding a lightsaber, Chewbacca, Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), Finn (John Boyega) and General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher) in military uniform.

Before screening the footage, Disney CEO Bob Iger addressed the audience. “We make a point of revealing very little from our upcoming Star Wars films,” he said. “We want to keep them secret. But we’re making an exception today. We’re going to show you an exclusive first look at what happens right after that scene, and that lightsaber being handed to its rightful owner.”

Iger also took the opportunity to pay tribute to the late Carrie Fisher. “Carrie Fisher has been an iconic part in this franchise from the very beginning,” he said. “We all miss her. She had great talent and wit. We’re proud that this movie coming up is part of her legacy.”

Director Rian Johnson's film is described as suitably epic, and The Force Awakens director JJ Abrams has suggested Mark Hamill may win an Oscar for his role as Luke Skywalker.

Fans shouldn't have to wait too much longer for a first glimpse of The Last Jedi. A trailer is expected to premiere during a panel with director Rian Johnson and Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy at Star Wars Celebration Orlando in April. Incidentally, Star Wars Celebration takes a break next year before returning in 2019 for the final installment in the Star Wars sequel trilogy.

The Last Jedi is scheduled for release in cinemas on 15th December.

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

A sequel to Alien: Covenant is already written



Director Ridley Scott recently confirmed to The Sydney Morning Herald that Alien: Covenant is the beginning of a new prequel series to Alien, and the next installment may start filming as soon as 2018.

“You’ve got to assume to a certain extent success and from that you’d better be ready. You don’t want a two-year gap. So I’ll be ready to go again next year…. If you really want a franchise, I can keep cranking it for another six. I’m not going to close it down again. No way.”

The article goes on to corroborate what many fans (myself included) expected. Prometheus is not a part of the new prequel series starting with Alien: Covenant.

“What we did really well on Prometheus, considering that it was a ground zero idea that was starting all over again, was I discovered that people do have an appetite for the alien and what he means and his evolution – the egg, the facehugger, the chestburster as we call them. People still want to see it. So I return to a little bit of that but not wholeheartedly; there’s a lot in here which is new as well… We go from Prometheus into both worlds of the original Alien and a little bit of Prometheus. Prometheus was about who and why? This is getting closer to who designed it and for what reason.”

This reaffirms my suggestion Alien: Covenant is a soft reboot of the franchise. And could also explain why Neill Blomkamp's sequel to James Cameron's Aliens, thereby retconning Alien 3 out of existence, is on hold indefinitely.